We came. We saw. We con con-quered. Last weekend, a few members of the IMI Content Team headed to San Francisco for the first—and hopefully annual—Con Con, a one-day conference featuring some of the best content curators and creators of our day. Con Con was hosted by The Hustle, an online pub built to spread progressive thinking around tech, design, culture, and biz.
The event was held at the Brava Theater and focused on teaching companies how to create content to drive new business, build a larger audience, and monetize for the masses.
The tagline said it all: Horrible name, amazing content.
We learned a lot in one day. Each 20-minute keynote was led by content masters from all corners of the media landscape. They included actionable tactics for creating, promoting, and earning by producing great content.
We heard stories. Drank Lagunitas. Watched human body beer pong unfold. And learned a lot about content.
This is our lesson-by-lesson verbal highlight reel.
Lesson #1: Engage Communities with the Power of Consistency
Derek Flanzraich was great, so it’s no wonder why he named his online publication Greatist. A female audience member let her love be known rather immediately, with an ever-so-subtle “I LOVE YOU DEREK!” It wouldn’t be presumptive to assume that, by the end of his talk, most of the audience wanted to have a beer with him and introduce him to their mothers.
Greatist began as Derek’s personal mission to make people think about health in a different way. Years ago, he couldn’t find a single magazine or brand or website that really spoke to him in meaningful and helpful ways. So Derek started the company and began writing articles for himself—a millennial who long struggled with his weight; and even more so, with self image issues brought on by a culture that projected unrealistic expectations for beauty while neglecting true health. To Derek, health and fitness was a part of the mission—not the point.
Greatist now attracts more than 10m readers a month. How do they do it? They make content that is 10x better than the competition. And while media sites like BuzzFeed publish up to 100 articles every day, Greatist only posts 4 or 5. Furthermore, every piece is backed by science and approved by experts. Each article must adhere to strict voice, tone, style, and grammatical standards. The average reader can digest them in as little as 6 minutes. That consistency and readability makes the content great.
Lesson #2: Super-Serve an Audience
Part of Derek’s goal for Greatist was to get people to focus on improvement, not perfection. And to help them live with a healthy attitude. But he also wasn’t afraid to find a niche audience in the process. When he launched the site, his audience was broad. He then narrowed it down to an excruciatingly specific target, and on came the real engagement.
He went from trying to serve everyone to serving busy millennials that were aiming to improve their physical and mental health, a little at a time. His team began creating mission-based content that made readers feel in control of life’s outcomes and part of something greater.
Be relevant to someone. Not relevant to everyone.
Derek scoured the web to get to know his audience. He figured out what to call them towards and created content that would most resonate with them. When recalling his company story, he referenced the famous Disney park castles, which give visitors something monumental to head towards. For Greatist, that castle or temple is precision-focused content that genuinely aids its audience better than any other sources can. Greatist’s content is gender-neutral, data-driven, and bold in tackling uncomfortable topics. The company isn’t afraid to go against the grain of a culture that puts quantity over quality, and image over substance.
Lesson #3: Build Channels, Not Campaigns
Our next lesson came from the mouth of Dave Finnochio, the founder of Bleacher Report. This once-mocked sports media company now rules the social sports content world across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Social channels aside, the site itself sees about 60M visitors per month. His talk was titled ‘How to Build a Social Empire’ and dove headlong into the importance of building a brand’s social voice and influence. While competing media giants were designing content and experiences around websites with a monetary focus on on-page ad revenues, Bleacher Report began building an arsenal of social-friendly content. They put the user first and the advertiser second. And now advertisers want their names all over their content.
The company now creates an endless stream of short, episodic content pieces that earn more shares than that of any other sports brands. The company has built so much influence that it influences athletes themselves. Dave and his colleagues viewed social as channels through which viewers could engage with sporting events and cultures in a real, personal way. Bleacher Report posts the most valuable content when the users are the most impressionable, such as the halftime periods of major sporting events. By prioritizing social content and building relevant channels worthy of daily visitation, Dave built Bleacher Report into a media giant.
Lesson #4: Write and Create for Yourself (If You Can)
Let’s face it, humans are selfish creatures, especially when it comes to online content. Chubbies, a company with a laser-thigh focus on manufacturing and selling short shorts for men, understands this. What Grant Marek and his 4-person content team also understand is this:
“Write for yourself. Create for yourself. And know your Mason-Dixon content line.”
Chubbies knows their target because they are their target. Not every brand and company has the opportunity to do that, so some may need to step outside of how they would want content to be served. But the shorts brand also knows that not all content needs to be brand focused, overly serious, and overproduced; they know that any content that makes them laugh will likely make their target consumers laugh too. To Chubbies, the “Mason-Dixon content line” is 1997. As Grant discovered, any content referencing pop culture prior to 97 would fall flat. Every brand should have those lines–and rules–of engagement.
The Chubbies team divides their content into two camps: editorial content and brand content. Nearly every video they produce on the editorial side goes viral (or so it seems). Their famous human beer pong video was shot, produced, and edited with a sub-700 dollar budget. Their “Pants are the Devil” brand ad was professionally produced and successfully sells both the product and the experience. No matter the purpose or the delivery platform, none of them seem to try too hard or take things too seriously. That tactic, whether intentional or not, goes a long way for Chubbies and their 1.4 million Facebook fans.
Lesson #5: Position Brands as a Secondary Part of a Larger Idea or Story
Where’s the big, meaty relatable truth? If it’s directly tied to self-promotion, it could kill consumer trust for the brand. That’s why The Onion has set out to find unique and hilarious ways to promote brands as a secondary part of larger stories. For example, the online faux news site created a “LawnBnb” ad that spoofs AirBnb and promotes Scotts lawn care products in a funny, subtle way.
BONUS: Value the Response as Much as the Content
It was hard to keep it at 5. We couldn’t close the article without talking about Medium, the free and open blogging platform that has taken the Internet by storm. It’s given a voice to those creating the best content and packages it on the perfect distribution channel.
Medium is now the go-to publishing platform for writers, thinkers, startups, big brands, and even the POTUS. With tens of millions of people on the site every month, Medium has given people an easier way to discover—and be discovered. The platform has made avenues of discovery both easy and intuitive. The responses are treated with the same weight as the original article. This creates chains of responses that are searchable, readable, and powerful. Within each article, you will also see user-highlighted snippets of text that can easily be shared. It’s a content democracy. And it works.
See you at Con Con 2017?